Going into Thursday night's NBA draft, the direction of the Boston Celtics was still up in the air. Would they trade for Kevin Love and immediately vault themselves back into contention in the Eastern Conference? Would they deal Rajon Rondo for more draft picks? Or would they simply roll with what they had and continue rebuilding the old-fashioned way?
It turned out to be the latter, as the Celtics kept their two first-round choices (one of which was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade last summer) and selected Marcus Smart at No. 6 and James Young at No. 17.
While we'll never know for sure how hard the Celtics actually tried to pry Love away from the Minnesota Timberwolves, one would have to assume that they made a concerted effort to do so but merely did not have the pieces Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves desired.
Boston general manager Danny Ainge did not outright come out and say that he attempted to make a move for Love, but his comments prior to the draft were not all too cryptic:
Ainge on trying to deal: "I think our initial goal was to expedite the rebuilding process. But we can't rush something that's not there."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 26, 2014
A large number of Celtics fans may be disappointed that their beloved team was not able to score the elite big man, but they need not despair.
By Ainge staying the course and rolling with what he had at his disposal, he let everyone know which direction Boston is headed, and the future looks bright.
So What Does this Mean for Rajon Rondo?
As soon as the C's selected Smart, rampant speculation began about how it would affect Rondo.
Smart played point guard at Oklahoma State, so, naturally, people surmised that this could mean the end of Rondo's tenure in Boston.
While none of us know for certain what Ainge and the rest of the Celtics front office have up their sleeves this summer, bringing Smart aboard does not necessarily mean that Rajon's days in green are numbered.
Boston owner Wyc Grousbeck said as much. "We've got an All-Star point guard, so that's not a question here," Grousbeck said, via Mike Petraglia of WEEI. "I don't think this has any impact on Rajon at all."
If you watched Smart play in college, you probably already know that he is not a true floor general. He is not like a Rondo or a Chris Paul, someone whose primary duty isn't to look for their own offense but to get their teammates involved. Rather, Smart is much more comparable to Dwyane Wade or Lance Stephenson, and if you want to liken him to another point guard, Russell Westbrook is an appropriate comparison.
That is to say that Smart isn't a distributor; he is a scorer.
This is a 6'4", 220-pound bull who imposes his will on the defense, getting to the rim with reckless abandon.
Dylan Burkhardt of ShotAnalytics.com breaks it down:
What Smart can do is bully his way to the paint and finish at the rim. He shot 67% around the rim and that’s a very impressive number for a guard. At 6-foot-3, 227 pounds and with a wingspan over 6-foot-9, Smart has the type of physical profile to infer that, with time, he’ll be able to bully opponents at the professional level too. He also brings a lot to the table that you won’t find on a shot chart. He gets to the free throw line, he gets into passing lanes defensively, he’s a good rebounder and he’s also a plus-passer at the point guard position.
He wasn't a terribly efficient shooter in college, shooting only 41.3 percent largely due to his inability to effectively knock down the three-point shot. Smart drained only 87 of the 295 triples he launched during his two years with the Cowboys, good for a meek 29.5 percent.
The good news is that Smart is an outstanding finisher around the rim, as the guard shot an incredible 67 percent at the cup during his final season. Check out his shot chart:
If Smart can continue converting at the basket near that rate and parade to the free-throw line in the process, it will make his shakiness from the perimeter that much more bearable.
Plus, there is reason to believe that Smart will develop into a better outside shooter. His mechanics are solid and his stroke looks smooth. The only issue is that his release is fairly slow and deliberate, largely due to the fact that he brings the ball down to his knees before getting a shot up.
Take a look:
If he works on his release with a shooting coach, he could become a reliable perimeter threat.
You don't need to look any further than the Celtics' own Avery Bradley to see a player who came into the league as a poor jump shooter only to transform into a dependable one.
The takeaway from all of this is that Rondo and Smart can absolutely coexist in the backcourt. As a matter of fact, they could form a lethal tandem if they play to each other's strengths. Given Smart's athleticism and Rondo's affinity for making plays out in the open court, the two could comprise one of the deadlier fast-break duos in the league.
To add on, Smart is a ferocious defender, and with Rondo's savvy on that end of the floor, Boston could end up having the game's stingiest perimeter defense in the near future.
It's definitely plausible to think that Ainge made this pick with the idea of pairing Smart with Rajon.
Now, as for another Celtics guard...
How About Avery Bradley?
If anyone could be on the way out due to Smart's arrival, it's Bradley, who is a restricted free agent.
After all, Bradley is similar to Smart in that he is not a true point guard. He is an undersized 2-guard who is able to survive at the position due to his solid strength and tenacity on the defensive end.
According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, Bradley could command a contract worth $7-9 million per year, a price the Celtics may not be willing to match.
After selecting Smart, Ainge said, via Brian Robb of Boston.com, of the potential trio of Rondo, Bradley and Smart, "[Smart's] a very versatile player. Easily those guys can play together. I think they would really thrive playing together, all of them."
While I don't doubt Ainge's desire to keep all three, I hesitate to say that it is going to happen.
If another team comes along and offers Bradley a four-year deal worth $7 million or more, will the C's match the offer?
Bradley is undeniably a nice player, a phenomenal perimeter defender with an improving offensive repertoire. However, his durability has to be a concern going forward.
Bradley has played one "full" season, and that came during the lockout-shortened year in 2011-12. He then ran into some shoulder problems during those playoffs and was forced to undergo surgery on both shoulders, leading him to miss 32 games the following year. Bradley then proceeded to sit out 22 more contests in 2013-14 due to various maladies.
So, what Ainge has to ask himself is whether or not he wants to pay a sizeable chunk of money to an injury-prone player who is likely going to be the ballclub's sixth man down the line. Smart certainly projects to be the starting shooting guard whenever he is ready for that type of role, leaving Bradley on the outside looking in.
Now, if no one offers anything more than $6 million annually for Avery, then perhaps Ainge will consider bringing the guard back.
"Of course this is where I want to be," Bradley told CSNNE.com in May. "I've been in Boston for four years and I love it; I love the fans, the front office. I definitely want to be back."
Clearly, that may change if another franchise comes knocking with a more lucrative offer than the Celtics are willing to give.
Prediction? If someone ponies up $7 million a year for his services, Bradley is a goner.
As tantalizing as it is to envision the vicious defensive prowess of a potential backcourt rotation of Rondo, Smart and Bradley, it just doesn't sound very realistic.
Breaking Down Everything Else
Smart wasn't the only player Boston drafted, you know. It also hauled in Young, a 6'7" wing from Kentucky.
Only 18 years old, Young has a high ceiling and already has some big-game experience, having reached the national title game with the Wildcats this past season.
Young is a solid athlete with a very smooth jumper, and while he doesn't do anything spectacularly well, he also does not have any glaring weaknesses. Some say that Young is nothing more than average as an athletic specimen, but could a merely average athletic specimen do this?
What's more, he has a good mindset offensively, not settling for long twos and instead taking threes and getting to the cup:
As you can see, Young especially loves the left corner three, and he is also adept at knocking it down from straightaway and the right wing.
He has the potential to play both ends of the floor very well, thanks much in part to his long frame which allows him to be a pest defensively:
Ainge on Young: "We think that James has a chance to be a very complete player. We think he's a two-way player. He can defend his position."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 27, 2014
As for what this means for the rest of the Celtics roster, it absolutely makes Jeff Green more expendable.
Back in April, Green was said to be "eminently available," per Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald (paid download required).
The question is will anyone take Green at his current salary?
Green is due $9.2 million in 2014-15 and has a player option for the same amount the following year.
Perhaps a contender looking for another scorer will be willing to take on Green, but you have to wonder just how much that team would surrender in return.
Regardless, Young gives the Celtics options, and he also gives them some much-needed floor spacing. Boston ranked just 28th in three-point percentage in 2013-14, so Young should help give Brad Stevens' group a boost there.
With the addition of Smart and Young to go along with Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Boston now has a very solid young core to build around.
It seems evident that the goal is not to make the playoffs next season. Instead, the objective is to keep promoting the young talent and to continue utilizing (and acquiring) assets. Should the C's miss the postseason again, they'll have another lottery pick in what appears to be another solid draft class.
The Celtics may not be ready to contend, but the groundwork has been set. They have youth plus a plethora of draft picks, owning eight first-rounders over the next four years. Before long, Boston may be back to prominence.
All it takes is patience and a smart front office.
Fortunately, the Celtics seem to have both.